“May I take samples?” Skylar asked. Emily nodded. Skylar moved forward, the top half of their body leaning back as they moved closer to Emily. John squat down next to Emily. She wrapped a hand around his wrist.
The alien pointed the muzzle of the long item towards the bag of clementines. “What is that!” John held a hand out, pushing the end of the object to point away from them. The alien's eye tilted.
“This is not a weapon.” Skylar held the object by the strap, leaving the object to hang diagonally. Skylar’s eye tilted again, the other way this time. “It takes tiny samples in order to determine the chemical composition, or in the case of living tissue, it can also read DNA and RNA.” Another clacking sound came from Skylar as the device inside blinked yellow rapidly for a few seconds before holding a steady yellow glow. Skylar’s beak shifted down a few inches. “It appears the name does not translate; however, this does no harm.”
“Cool.” Emily's hand trailed up John's arm, before pushing his hand away from the object. Then she held out both of hers. “May I hold it?” The alien's eyelid moved in a slow blink. John cleared his throat. Emily pulled her hand back. “Sorry, if that's rude. I'm just excited. I mean a chance to touch a piece of alien hardware is so cool.”
The yellow glow faded, replaced by pink. “Thank you for the compliment Emily.” Skylar's eye shifted, gazing at the object and then at Emily. “Would you like to try?”
“I would be honored Skylar.”
Skylar's tentacle stretched out, the object spinning slowly on the strap. Emily set her cane down next to her before reaching her hands out, palms up. Skylar glanced between John and Emily, before its tentacle set the object in Emily's hands.
Emily moved her hands up and down the object, fingers brushing lightly over the buttons. When her fingertips went over the hole at the end of the tube, Skylar cleared his throat, or at least, copied the sound.
“Careful, that's where the needle comes out.” Emily pulled her hands back down the object. “Press the,” Skylar paused and the screen inside flickered yellow again, “barrel lightly against the object you wish to sample, and then, for living tissue, hit the green button. The hiss is the sound of the needle deploying. Hold the barrel against the sample until it beeps twice.”
“Let's do a clementine first.” Emily adjusted her grip on the sample machine, one hand at the base, and the other part way up the barrel. John grabbed the bag of clementines, pulling one out and holding it in his hand.
“The green button is the second closest to you.” John said to Emily before he reached out, holding the clementine with his hand in the shape of a 'c' against the end of the machine. “Go ahead.” The button was silent, and the hiss low. John ducked his head, but there was no need.
Emily and John held still. After ten seconds the machine beeped once, and then there was a couple clicks, and then the second beep. John pulled the clementine away and Emily pointed the barrel of the machine down. John turned the clementine over, staring at it. He ran a hand over the bumpy surface, and it came back clean and not sticky.
“Is the needle hole big?” Emily held out a hand. John handed her the clementine. She rubbed her fingers over the skin. “I can't even feel it! Neat.”
“Microscopic needle.” Skylar said. “Do you wish to try too John?” Emily held the sampler out. John grabbed it.
“Pepper or cucumber?” Emily asked as she reached for the Tupperware container. John leaned forward as Emily pulled the lid away. The cucumber was already sliced thin, but the mini peppers were still whole.
“Pepper.” Emily plucked a pepper out, a red one, and rested it on her palm. John brought the edge of the machine to his shoulder, and then held the barrel opening against the pepper. He pressed the green button with a finger. The machine didn't buck at all with the hiss. John held it still.
After the beeps John handed the machine back out to Skylar. “You can sample the cucumber.” John said, as he reached for the container. Skylar took their machine back with two tentacles, and took the slice of cucumber from John with a different one.
“Thank you.” Skylar held the cucumber up to their eye. “May I try it?”
“Yes.” Emily held out the pepper and clementine as well. “These too.” Skylar took a bite of the cucumber, his beak taking a triangular wedge out of the slice. Chewing did not happen. When Skylar swallowed, John watched the small wedge move down inside Skylar's body and it settled in one of the wrinkled organs.
“Sometimes people dip their cucumbers in something, or put on a little salt.” John said.
“Which kind of salt?”
“Sodium chloride.” Emily answered. “Is that a common salt on Qwortar?” Skylar chuckled.
“So much. Near the Northern Isles, they build their houses out of sodium chloride blocks.” One of Skylar's tentacles wrapped around the pepper and brought it to their beak. It crunched as he bit into it. The pepper appeared purple as it joined the blue green wedge of cucumber in Skylar's body.
“Most people don't eat the seeds, or the stem.” Emily spoke. “And personally I like to dip my peppers in ranch dressing.” Sklyar grabbed the clementine.
“You'll want to,” Skylar bit into the fruit, skin and all, before John could finish his sentence.
“Juicy.” The light inside Skylar glowed green. “Though the skin is...different.” Emily giggled.
“We usually peel the skin off, and then break the clementine into wedges to eat.” John shrugged his shoulder. “But I believe the skin is still edible.”
“We put the clementine skin in the compost pile at home.” Emily grabbed her cane, slipping the strap over her wrist. “Do you want more samples?”
“Is your ship still flyable?” John glanced at the gleaming interior.
“Yes. And yes. I'm just bad at landing.” Skylar's eye bobbed up and down. “If it is not too much trouble.”
“We could get more samples from Whole Foods.” Emily put a hand on John's shoulder as she stood up.
“I mean we could,” John sighed. “But we can't exactly take Skylar with us.”
“We can leave the Sampler in the car.” John placed his hand on his face.
“The Sampler isn't the issue here. Do you want to get detained by the government and questioned? Skylar’s clearly not from Earth.” Emily turned her head to John, eyebrows peeking over her sunglasses.
“We can give Skylar a disguise.”
“Skylar's gelatinous. With one eye and a beak which can orientate themselves anywhere. A disguise isn’t going to hide that.”
“I can look human.” John looked over at Skylar. The alien held a tentacle out. “I just need a sample of one of you.” Skylar wiggled the Sampler.
“You can shapeshift!” Emily pulled her hand off John's shoulder and thrust it towards Skylar. “That's so cool!”
“Emily,” John put a hand on her arm. “Maybe we shouldn't,” Emily shook his hand away.
“Qwortar will forever be in the debt of Emily and John if you help me collect more samples.” Skylar's eye focused on John.
John sighed. “Fine, but-”
“No. Skylar will take a sample from me.”
“John.” She nudged him with her elbow. “You and I both know you are the faster runner.”
“Fine.” John dragged out the word, hating the single syllable, but unable to contradict Emily.
Skylar pressed the Sampler against Emily's middle finger. “Try not to flinch, but it shouldn't be any worse than...” The screen blinked yellow a couple times, “a shot from your doctor.”
The hiss came and Emily didn't flinch, but John did. After the beeps, Emily pulled her hand back, rubbing her thumb across her finger. “It hurt less than a shot.” John saw Emily's grin out of the corner of his eye as he was watching what Skylar was doing.
The device John had used to pick a language moved out of Skylar's body with a squelching sound. A small tube came out of the device and entered the barrel end of the Sampler. Skylar pushed the red button, and the Sampler buzzed. The device's screen turned white, though the screen slowly became green, much like a loading bar.
When the whole screen was green, the tube retraced and the device was sucked back into Skylar's body. John steadied his weight as Emily leaned against him. “You are so going to tell me what happened later.” She whispered.
The device flashed white and blue several times, getting brighter each time until John was forced to shut his eyes. When the intensity on his eyelids faded, he opened his eyes.
Skylar was sitting on the ground, legs out in front, and they were holding their hands up in front of their eyes. First John registered that Skylar had red hair, but longer and curlier than Emily's, and then John turned around, nearly knocking Emily off balance.
“What?” Emily's cane clacked against a small rock or something as she steadied herself. John covered his cheeks and wasn't sure what to say.
“Is there something wrong?” Skylar's voice was higher than John's, deeper than Emily's, and had lost the underwater touch. “I did not wish to be a...doppelganger. I had the device manipulate the expression of the DNA to create what your future child might look like.”
“Wait, you mixed us?” Emily asked.
“Mostly facial features, though besides size, the body is yours Emily.” John groaned.
“Can I touch your face?” Emily blurted. John dragged his hands down his face, pulling at the buttons of his flannel overshirt.
“I do not see that as a human custom in the database.” Skylar said slowly.
“It's how I see. Since I'm blind.”
“Oh. I did not see a fault in the DNA.”
“It happened after a car accident,” Emily answered. John pulled off the flannel, tossing it behind him.
“Put that on.” John muttered.
“Oh. Thank you.”
“Does Skylar also need pants?” Emily asked through a giggle.
“If we don't want Skylar arrested for public indecency.” John sighed. “But I don't have a spare.”
“Luckily my mother is a crazy worrier,” John heard the backpack rustle, and the unfurling of fabric. “She insisted I pack an extra pair of leggings in this bag too.”
“I am never calling your mother crazy again.” John muttered.
“Don't be embarrassed,” Emily snorted. “it's not like you've never seen a naked human before.”
“In movies, or when our mothers tossed us in a bath together when we were two.” John grumbled. Emily continued to snicker.
“I thought tossing children was a bad idea?”
“An expression.” Emily pat John's shoulder. “How are you doing Skylar?”
“Almost,” Skylar grunted, leaves rustled and then there was a gleeful shout. “Done!”
John turned around. Though he started with his gaze near the ground. The leggings were a couple inches short, but at least they were on. John looked higher, and sighed. Skylar had done the buttons, but they were off by one, leaving the left side a little longer than the right.
“Well, almost.” John stepped forward. “I'll fix the buttons.” Even though his face was burning, he knew Emily would make him do it anyway.
“Thanks.” Skylar grinned, with John's crooked canine next to Emily's slightly longer than average front tooth. “And then Emily, you may touch my face, to see it.” John fixed the buttons quickly and then stepped back.
Emily came forward, tucking her cane under her arm as she reached her hands up. John guided her right hand to Skylar's human face. Emily was then able to bring her left hand over. She ran her fingers lightly over Skylar's features.
“John's nose,” Emily said, “my shape of eyes. Oh, you chose John's bushy eyebrows.” Emily giggled. “My attached earlobe, but the size of John's ears. Lucky, I've always wanted his ears, they don't stick out awkwardly.” Her left hand gripped Skylar's chin, rubbing a thumb over it. “John, closer.” John shuffled closer and Emily reached out and grabbed his chin too. She rubbed her thumb on John's chin. “My size, and John's cleft. I bet that's kinda cute.” Emily grinned. “Now Sklyar, smile as big as you can.” Skylar followed Emily's instructions. Emily felt near the corners of Skylar's lips. “A dimple on the right, that's adorable!”
The wind picked up and a cloud moved. The sunlight grew brighter, reflecting off Skylar's hair and now John could see the light brown highlights on the sides of her head. Emily pulled her hands away.
“Thank you Skylar. John, you find the nearest Whole Foods.” John pulled out his cell phone. “Skylar, if anyone asks, you're a friend from San Francisco, and your parents came to L.A. to do business. We are email pals, so I invited you to hang with us while your parents are busy.”
“You two make a cute couple.” Skylar’s new voice, so similar to Emily’s, only made the statement weirder to John. Emily laughed and John felt the flush he had return.
“She's not my girlfriend.” John blurted.
“Wait,” Skylar held up a finger. John turned to his phone copying the address and opening his GPS app. “So, is Emily not a girl, or not a friend?” Emily continued to giggle.
“She is a girl. And a friend. She is my girl space friend. Not girlfriend without a space.”
“Oh.” Skylar nodded. “So Emily is not a possible future mate?” Emily reached a hand out and cupped John's cheek, which only got hotter.
“You're embarrassing him Skylar.” Emily pat John's shoulder. “I haven't felt his face burn so much since Lola asked him to the dance.”
“Now who's embarrassing me.” John grabbed Emily's hand and put it on his arm. “Do what you need to hide your ship Skylar. My car is down at the entrance to the park.” Emily zipped her bag and put it over one shoulder.
“You found a Whole Foods?” John nodded, watching as Skylar stumbled over to the ship, running a hand along the edge of the rectangle, and the door shut. “I haven't used only two legs before.” Skylar bent over, and put the strap of the Sampler over her shoulders. John held out his other arm.
“Grab on. The ground is uneven until we reach the trail.”
“What about shoes?” Emily mused. Skylar wrapped an arm around John's, copying Emily.
“I think I have an old pair of sandals in the trunk.” John started walking, more slowly than he did before.
“And our campsite?” Emily asked. John sighed.
“Good thing we didn't set up the tent. We'll grab the rest of the stuff on our way.”
“Skylar, the rangers might investigate-” Emily pointed her cane behind the group.
“My ship won't be grounded.” There was a low humming sound behind them. “I programmed it to find a tree which could support its weight. And I can track it with my pad.”
“Is that everything?” John glanced between the two of them. Both nodded. “Great. Let's go get some samples so the people of Qwortar doesn't starve to death.”
“Thank you.” Skylar's voice was soft. John looked over and smiled as Skylar's head dropped.
“Just try not to crash if you or any of your people come back. Don't attack either.”
“Don't worry, my mother is the Supreme General, once she hears of your kindness, no soldier will be allowed to harm a human from Earth.”
“Great.” John's voice jumped in pitch. “You should have lead with that.” Skylar and Emily both laughed. Emily squeezed his arm, it was her 'I told you so' squeeze.